Gee -- No, G.E. -- No, GE (Ґ), aka The good guys can win in the end

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2008/06/10 10:01 -04:00, original URI:

Early last year in the blog What's wrong with the Ukrainian keyboard layout, anyway? I wrote about a new keyboard layout that was added to help correct longstanding problems with the old layout.

The sponsorship of the blog was in fact one of the formerly missing letters:

This post brought to you by Ґ and ґ (U+0490 and U+0491, a.k.a. CYRILLIC CAPITAL AND SMALL LETTER GHE WITH UPTURN)

And that wasn't the end of the matter....

For example, Mike commented:

Ґ is a russian letter, Ukrainians dont use it no more, its not in the Ukrainian language.  Ґ is a russian letter. Everything  Ґ is automaticly a He. Learn real Ukrainian. Example i was in Ukraine this summer and the cellphones there had no GE on it.

to which ml8 responded:

You're wrong. Ґ is as much Ukrainian letter as a aforementioned apostrophe. And I'm ukrainian myself, so to speak :)

and I myself couldn't resist pointing out:

I tend to agree; if Boomchyk says it is, I think it is! :-)

I meant it -- i like that little guy!

Then a few months later Tatiana Racheva elaborated:

The Mac Ukrainian keyboard I'm using right now has the apostrophe in the right place and doesn't include 'ё'.

Ґ is in place of the backslash on this keyboard (don't know where it is in Windows).

In fact, I believe the only language that uses Ґ is in Ukrainian. The sound doesn't exist in many (any?) native Ukrainian words, but it is handy for borrowed words & words imitating sound.

It was not included in ISO-8859-5. It was argued by some Soviet scholars that it is unnecessary, and was in disuse between the 1930-s and 1990.

Wikipedia says that its use varies by region, with Western Ukrainian areas using it more consistently (incidentally, Western Ukraine is where Ukrainian language is more widely used, too, so...).

As a by-the-way, this is one of those times that I find myself jealous of a person for their name -- I wish I knew and hung out with someone with a name like Tatiana. It just sounds so nice, and rolls off the tongue. Add the accent and I'd be toast, and I don't even understand why!

She is right though -- the letter is not in ISO 8859-5, but it is in Windows code page 1251.

Anyway, a few weeks later -- and earlier today, in fact -- Iryna Yasinska Graves opined:

The letter/soun "g" is a Ukrainian letter.  The Russians deleted it from the Ukrainian language log ago in order to make Ukrainian more Russian.  Ukraine an Ukrainians are once again using this letter/sound in order to emphasize the fact that Ukrainian an Russian are tw DIFFERENT languages.

(Before you ask, yes. Iryna and Irina are names I have put into that same category, since at laest the time I first read Gorky Park if not sooner!)

Let's have a look at that article, shall we?

According to the Wikipedia Ukrainian language article:

The Ukrainian letter ge ґ was banned in the Soviet Union from 1933 until the period of Glasnost in 1990.

This doesn't talk about in the Ukraine, though. Hmmmm. Let's check out the Ukrainian alphabet article:

Unified Orthography

In 1925, the Ukrainian SSR created a Commission for the Regulation of Orthography. During the period of Ukrainization in Soviet Ukraine, the 1927 International Orthographic Conference was convened in Kharkiv, from May 26 to June 6. At the conference a standardized Ukrainian orthography and method for transliterating foreign words were established, a compromise between Galician and Soviet proposals, called the Kharkiv Orthography, or Skrypnykivka, after Ukrainian Commissar of Education Mykola Skrypnyk. It was officially recognized by the Council of People's Commissars in 1928, and by the Lviv Shevchenko Scientific Society in 1929, and adopted by the Ukrainian diaspora. The Skrypnykivka was the first universally-adopted native Ukrainian orthography.

However, by 1930 Stalin's government started to reverse the Ukrainization policy as part of an effort to centralize power in Moscow. In 1933, the orthographic reforms were abolished, decrees were passed to bring the orthography steadily closer to Russian. His reforms discredited and labelled "nationalist deviation", Skrypnyk committed suicide rather than face a show trial and execution or deportation. The Ukrainian letter ge ґ, and the phonetic combinations ль, льо, ля were eliminated, and Russian etymological forms were reintroduced (for example, the use of -іа- in place of -ія-). An official orthography was published in Kyiv in 1936, with revisions in 1945 and 1960. This orthography is sometimes called Postyshivka, after Pavel Postyshev, Stalin's Russian official who oversaw the dismantling of Ukrainization.

In the meantime, the Skrypnykivka continued to be used by Ukrainians in Galicia and the worldwide diaspora.

During the period of Perestroika in the USSR, a new Ukrainian Orthographic Commission was created in 1987. A revised orthography was published in 1990, reintroducing the letter ge.

Wow, am I the only on who walks (well, scoots) away from stuff like this feeling like language is a bit too fragile?

I realize the title is awfully judgmental, deciding that the language keeping its differences means that the good guys won, but what about the countless changes in language, some for even worse reasons, that have succeeded?

About the only thing this case has over the one I mentioned in Vowel "harmony", enforced by political interests? is that for Ukrainian they mostly did not get away with it (though the many opinions make it clear that some people thought that is how it has always been), while so far for Uyghur they apparently have -- and not even Wikipedia has words to the contrary, this time.... :-(


If there is any doubt in your mind as to the letters sponsoring this blog, I don't think you have been trying hard enough!

# Alexander Stoyan on 10 Jun 2008 10:39 AM:

You'r right. This language is a bit too fragile. But I would say it is extremely fragile. It becomes ugly. Somebody strives to change it in any way to escape any similarity with russian. Imho it occures only due to the political interests. The ukrainians still aren't sure about how to write "helicopter" in ukrainian. There are 3 possible words and nobody knows what is the right. Another good example. About 3 generations have grown with old folk tales. And one of the prominent characters is Cheburashka ( Everybody in Ukraine, Russia, Belorussia, Georgia and in other CIS countries knows quite good who is actually Cheburashka. But from now on the ukrainians have to call this inoffensive creature as "Dibilyatko". To clear it "Dibilyatko" for ukrainians and russiand sounds exactly as "small moron" or "small idiot". It is stupidly, ugly and disgustingly. And that is the reason why about 50% of ukrainians speak in russian. And I do :)

And I can sure you that Ґ is definitely ukrainian letter.

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